So you want to win a MNC? One thing we've learned the last few years is that you need lots and lots of NFL talent to win a MNC. The 2005 Texas team was loaded with future pros up and down the roster, everywhere except LB. Our 2005 nickel back, Aaron Ross, just started for the Superbowl winner, for example. Our walk-on FB, Ahmard Hall, has two years in the league. The other recent MNC winners, save the 2000 Sooners (Stoops sold his soul to the devil that year), were similarly loaded. No matter how brilliant your coaches are, no matter how savvy and gutty your team's leaders are, if your team isn't loaded with NFL talent, it won't win the big one.
The NFL combine is a good metric for grading college talent. The NFL doesn't really care where a player went to school, who his coach is, if he was misused, or had bad injury luck. They really only care if he has the ability to play in their league. About 70% of the guys invited to the combine will be drafted, and of those drafted about 80% will make a roster. Of those not drafted, almost all will go to a camp, and a decent percentage of them will make a roster. Let's make the assumption, then, that the invitees to the combine have demonstrated they have NFL ability, and then use that assumption to determine how good recruiting rankings from years before served as predictors of performance.
The NFL invited 335 players to the combine. Of these players, per Rivals.com (I'm not endorsing this rating, just quoting it), 21 were 5-star recruits, 74 were 4-star recruits, 104 were 3-stars, 91 were 2-stars, 3 were 1-stars, and 42 were Not Rated. 11 of these players are kickers and deep snappers (including 8 of the Not Rated). 21 were JC transfers.
What do we learn from this? 5-star recruits are the gold standard. There are only 25 - 28 per year, and 60 - 70% make it to the combine, historically. A closer look shows that 17 of these were 3 or 4 year players in college. These guys are identified early as high talents, and they typically play and perform early.
How many 4-star recruits are there per year? 250? 300? They are not the same quality prospects as the 5-stars, but they still hit at a 25 - 35% rate. Only 40% of them redshirted and used a full 5 years before being ready for the NFL.
There are more 3-star recruits at the combine than any other rating. There is a reason for this. There are a lot more 3-star recruits than 4-star and 5-star. About 2300 kids get D-1A scholarships each year, and I'll bet about 1,000 of them are 3-star recruits. Of these 103 3-star guys at the combine, a full 63 redshirted. In other words, they used more time to develop and show their potential as athletes.
2-stars, 1-stars, and Not Rated? I think these are the guys from small, sparsely populated states, or from school districts with poor reputations. For whatever reason, they just really weren't scouted by Rivals. Most of these guys can't make it in the big time. The ones that do all have something in common- they went to a school where they could play. Rather than serve as tackling dummies at big programs, they went to the Morgan States, the Hamptons, the Furmans of the college football world. They got to play, and the NFL noticed.
What are the implications of this? If you're favorite school is able to, it should focus on highly touted players. They're called blue chips for a reason. When you're playing USC with Matt Leinat handing off to Bush and White, or throwing to Jarrett or Smith, you need a bunch of 4-star and 5-star guys in your secondary. Scrappy 2-star role players will just be able to look really gutsy as they trail the Trojans across the goal line.
If you're a 2-star or 3-star recruit, you have to realistically look for a program where you will play. Sure, an Oklahoma State may offer you; you had better make sure that they aren't also bringing in a couple of 4-stars at the same position, with you slotted as quality depth.
Here's a little game you can play on signing day. Take a look at your favorite team's recruiting class. Ignore all the puffery about them and just count the different ratings. Take the number of 5-stars and multiply times .6 (for Texas, that would be ) * .6 = 0, unless Scott surprises). Take the number of 4-stars and multiply times .25 (for Texas, that's 12 * .25 = 3). Take the 3-stars and multiply times .1 (for the Longhorns, that's 7 * .1 = .7). Add them together, and that's the number of guys that you can expect to go to the combine eventually, from that class. In other words, if Texas sends 4 from this signing class to the combine, the worst we have had since 2005, then we have outperformed our expectations. A little depressing, maybe, but this has never been the site to get sunshine pumped up your rear.